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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Cherish the wit and wisdom of the older generation

Our elders are curators of a wealth of experience, knowledge and heritage

Salem Al Midhani at his home in Ajman. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Salem Al Midhani at his home in Ajman. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“Please, don’t simply ignore us.” Few could fail to be moved by this poignant request by one of the UAE’s elders, made on the International Day of Older Persons. Some may feel a justified pang of of guilt. All of us, as we go about our fast-paced, modern lives, should reflect upon and learn from it.

Traditionally, Arab families and communities have valued their oldest members. As the Middle East Journal of Age and Ageing put it in 2014, Middle Eastern culture ensures respect for older people, who are seen as “a source of spiritual blessing, religious faith, wisdom and love”.

But times are changing. In the past decade, technology has made the world more open and accessible than ever before, but it has also closed off important conversations. As one 77-year-old in Sharjah put it, “no one talks to us and most of us don’t know how to communicate with the younger generation, through WhatsApp or Instagram”.

The answer, of course, is not to train older people in the use of social media. A smartphone screen is no friend to those with fading eyesight and, besides, what they want most is face-to-face contact with other human beings.

This week the Ministry of Community Development launched Your Blessing Is Our Duty, a campaign to recognise the needs of older people, and opened a club where they can mix with the young.

The plan, to create a nationwide network of such centres, is a commendable one. But each of us should reach out to our older neighbours, not merely out of a sense of obligation, but to take advantage of a golden opportunity to benefit from the experience, knowledge, wit and wisdom that comes with age. This applies particularly in the UAE, where the older people are the last remaining curators of a fascinating oral history.

And if a further reason for the young to reach out to the their elders were needed, it is this: if you fail to maintain the connections between generations today, tomorrow it will be you pleading, “Please, don’t simply ignore us”.